Updated on 13 July 2009 at 2.10pm
(Malaysian flag image source: vigilenzmd.com)
THIS Saturday, 11 July 2009, will mark Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s 100 days as prime minister. Be prepared for the swamp of praises for Malaysia’s sixth prime minister and for his 1Malaysia vision.
Three months ago, upon his succession, even his pinkish skin complexion was a subject of compliment in a Sin Chew commentary. Today, one could add a list of achievements that are more than skin deep: bold economic liberalisation, the cabinet’s position on unilateral conversion of minors, and his recognition of mother tongue education.
To win back the non-Malay Malaysian vote at all cost, Najib seems willing to dismantle the ethnocracy his late father built with the New Economic Policy (NEP) and other pro-Malay policies after the 1969 post-election riots.
Some foreign observers have expressed their astonishment at Najib’s boldness in ethnic relations. But they perhaps ignore the fact that Umno’s economic ethno-nationalism is untenable because of the external force of globalisation and the internal force of post-8 March democratisation.
The crude choice before Najib is abandoning Umno’s economic ethno-nationalism in the hope of saving the party, or risk having both Umno and its ethno-nationalism swept away by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat come the next elections.
“Where is democracy?”
The real test for Najib’s reformist substance is therefore political democratisation, not economic or sociocultural liberalisation.
Why? Umno’s electoral one-party state is what upholds Umno’s ethnocracy. In a multiparty democracy, communalism, corruption and mismanagement cannot be so easily shielded from public scrutiny.
Hence, it shouldn’t be surprising that what is conspicuously missing from Najib’s list of reforms is politics and governance. Netizens have already succinctly framed this lacking ingredient in Najib’s reforms in the 7-11 question addressed to Najib: “Where is democracy?”
KPIs on democracy
With the obsession of Malay-Muslim unity and possibly an Umno-PAS unity government, is Najib’s 1Malaysia essentially an “inclusive” Islamic state “with meritocracy”? After all, Najib has categorically denied that Malaysia is a secular state, and PAS cannot justify its collusion with Umno without some major ideological gain.
So are Najib’s reforms thus far about creating an “meritocratic ethno-theocracy”, where you are allowed to make money freely but must uphold Malay-Muslim (read: Umno-PAS) hegemony? I can’t speak for others, but this is definitely not good enough for me as a Malaysian citizen.
Indeed, as one of Najib’s 11 million bosses with voting rights, I am disappointed that democratisation has been ignored in his first 100 days. Hence, I would like to offer the following 10 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for his next 100 days as both prime minister and the Barisan Nasional (BN) chairperson who controls nine states.
Fresh elections for Perak
The Perak constitutional crisis has deepened after five months and threatens democracy in Malaysia in the future. A host of unelected institutions — palace, judiciary, Attorney-General (AG)’s Chambers, Election Commission, police, civil service, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission — have all been dragged into this unconstitutional regime change.
If this precedence is not reversed, what will happen in the next general election if neither the BN nor the Pakatan Rakyat enjoys a comfortable majority?
A royal commission on electoral reform before the next
constituency re-delineation exercise
Elections in Malaysia are still neither free nor fair.
(Pic by Steve Woods / sxc.hu)Elections lacking in integrity and credibility not only deny citizens their democratic right, they also reduce the competitiveness of electoral politics. At the same time, they also deprive the winner of legitimacy, possibly resulting in a political catastrophe like Iran or Thailand.
If the rules are not changed, the constituency re-delineation exercise — which may take place as early as 2010 — may set the first time bomb for future disputes.
A parliamentary select committee on judiciary and
The judiciary and prosecutorial powers are still controlled by the executive.
The Judicial Appointments Commission is controlled by the prime minister, making the reform a farce. Judicial power before the 1988 amendment of the Federal Constitution’s Article 121(1) has still not been restored.
The AG still controls prosecution and advises the federal government, resulting in a conflict of interest. The AG also controls deputy public prosecutors and lower court judges, who should be independent from each other.
A royal commission on parliamentary reform
Parliament is still controlled by the executive. There is no sharing of legislative leadership at both the house and committee levels. Opposition parliamentarians are thrown out regularly. There is no provision for the role of an opposition shadow cabinet.
Repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) and prohibit any law that
allows for detention without trial
The ISA is routinely used to terrorise Malaysians, especially dissenting Malaysians. Allowing detention without trial and other human rights violations by law is simply unacceptable for any civilised society.
Institute the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC)
The police continue to violate human rights. They continue to arrest citizens at whim. Detainees still mysteriously die in police custody. Crime rate is still soaring.
A parliamentary select committee on media law reform
The media still suffers tight political control via media-repressive laws that result in self-censorship. Additionally, the high entry barrier for the print and broadcast media results in monopolistic media control by BN interests.
There is not yet an independent public service media in Malaysia like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Freedom of Information (FOI) laws at both federal and
Freedom of information is still denied. Information vital for public interest is normally classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA). This hinders transparency and accountability, and breeds corruption and mismanagement.
While Selangor is initiating its own FOI law, nothing is happening at the federal level or in other states.
The Godfather Nationwide local government elections
Local governments are still unelected and unaccountable. They are largely unresponsive and incompetent. Local governments are not the mafia, therefore they must be elected to have taxing power.
Amending the MACC Act to increase MACC’s autonomy under optimum parliamentary oversight
Despite the transformation from the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA), the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) still practises selective investigations and is still impotent in curbing corruption.
Like its predecessor, the ACA, the MACC is still controlled by the executive and has no independent power to prosecute. Hence, it remains an executive’s tool to eliminate political opponents, rather than an independent institution combating corruption.
Now, if Najib takes some steps towards achieving the KPIs mentioned above in the next 100 days, then I am willing to believe that he may be a reformist. If he doesn’t, then he is embarking on some economic and sociocultural liberalisation measures just to revive Umno’s hegemony as his father did after 1969.
There is, of course, also nothing to stop him from proposing better KPIs to help the government advance democracy and political freedom in Malaysia. The question is — will he?
[Editor’s note: The above 10 KPIs is a statement initiated by 10 civil society organisations and endorsed by an additional 30. The statement was released at a press conference on 10 July 2009 in Kuala Lumpur. At the time of publication, The Nut Graph was not informed that the 10 KPIs was a civil society-intiated statement.]
A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, Wong Chin Huat is based at Monash University Sunway Campus. He believes that people are the government’s boss. They must give clear instructions to their servants and not tolerate government defiance, corruption and incompetence.